Don’t Call It a Comeback: Rap is Rebounding in 2024

After a relative lack of commercial success in 2023, hip-hop is surging back on the charts in the first quarter of 2024.

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There was a lot of talk over the last two years about hip-hop's decline, with many people predicting the genre’s downfall. Well, they were wrong, because just a few months into 2024, it looks like rap is getting back on course—commercially and critically.

In 2023, it took seven months for a rap album, Lil Uzi Vert’s Pink Tape, to top the Billboard Top 200. By the end of the year, only four rap albums hit No. 1, compared to 12 in 2022. Late last year, there were open discussions about the declining health of the genre as veteran artists like Juicy J claimed that rap music was “down 40%.” In reality, the genre’s market share fell from 27.64% midway through 2022 to 25.92% halfway through 2023, but the concerns were valid. Hip-hop was in the midst of a decline after years of growth.

Fortunately, it looks like the naysayers were wrong because the genre is rebounding in 2024. We’re only three full months into the year, and there have already been three No. 1 rap albums; 21 Savage’s American Dream, Ye and Ty Dolla Sign’s Vultures, and Future and Metro Boomin’s We Don’t Trust You. Future and Metro’s We Still Don’t Trust You is expected to top next week’s chart as well. For comparison, there were zero No. 1 rap albums by April 2023.

It wasn’t just albums. No rap songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 until September, when Doja Cat’s “Paint The Town Red” snapped a dry spell that had lasted for over a year. In 2024, it took less than two weeks for Jack Harlow’s “Lovin’ On Me” to become hip-hop’s first chart-topper. This was soon followed by No. 1 songs from Megan Thee Stallion (“Hiss”); Ye, Ty Dolla Sign, Rich the Kid, and Playboi Carti (“Carnival”); and Future, Metro Boomin, and Kendrick Lamar (“Like That”), the latter of which has now been sitting at No. 1 for three weeks straight. Hip-hop already has as many No. 1 songs in 2024 as it did all of 2023.

The mere idea of the biggest rappers battling through bars already tops any of the blockbuster rap moments of 2023.

Looking at the charts through a more granular lens, in the first week of April last year, there were 18 rap entries on the Billboard Hot 100. There were 38 rap entries in the first week of April this year. There were 27 rap album entries on the Billboard Hot 200 this time last year compared to 25 today, however, a majority of the rap projects that had entries last year were older albums like Graduation, Take Care, Views, and Igor that never lost their position. In general, when looking at this year's Hot 200 rap entries, there is more new music compared to the year prior, with albums like We Don’t Trust You and 2093 holding high chart placements. 

Of course, numbers aren’t everything. There were a lot of factors that hurt hip-hop’s morale in 2023. The YSL RICO case dominated the news cycle as Young Thug was locked up and Gunna faced “snitch” allegations, deflating the energy in Atlanta. Some of the genre’s biggest stars weren’t happy about the creative direction things were going, either, like Lil Yachty who criticized the lack of originality in rap, saying that “hip-hop is in a terrible place” in 2023. Rap albums that people expected to have generated blockbuster moments were also falling flat, like Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz’s Welcome 2 Collegrove and Meek Mill and Rick Ross’ Too Good To Be True. A-list stars weren’t delivering the excitement we were accustomed to, and it left fans disappointed. 

Controversy still sells. Ye has been canceled and forgiven countless times, and despite some outrageous bars on “Carnival,” (“Now I'm Ye-Kelly, bitch, now, I'm Bill Cosby, bitch/Now, I'm Puff Daddy rich, that's "#MeToo me" rich”?) it still managed to go No. 1. The song is a testament to how galvanizing hip-hop can still be—for better or worse. Meanwhile, diss records like “Hiss” and “Like That” went No. 1. The lyrical war that Kendrick Lamar, Future, Rick Ross, ASAP Rocky, and The Weeknd have waged against Drake is the shot of adrenaline the genre needed—competition is still entertaining. The mere idea of the biggest rappers battling through bars already tops any of the blockbuster rap moments of 2023. You know rap is in a great place when you hear a diss track like “Like That” blasting in the club.

Beyond the beefs and No. 1 hits, there has also been a lot of quality singles that have been popping off this year. After a few missteps and people wondering if she’d ever regain her early momentum, GloRilla successfully launched her comeback campaign with her contagious hit “Yeah Glo!” Sexyy Red is maintaining her momentum from last year with tracks like “Get It Sexy,” which has the streets in a chokehold. Ditto for Texas rapper BigXthaPlug, who has quietly been enjoying chart success with “Mmhmm.” 

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It’s not just the hits. ScHoolboy Q dropped an inspired album with Blue Lips, Tierra Whack expanded the boundaries of her world with her cathartic album World Wide Whack, and MIKE and Tony Seltzer’s Pinball left listeners impressed with its high-level lyrics and head-spinning production. All of these elite-yet-different albums came out in the same month this year. 

Several emerging rap scenes have started generating a lot of buzz outside of their respective silos. Detroit’s Veeze had the Rap Twitter album of the year with Ganger in 2023, and now his regional influence is beginning to bleed outside of the confines of Michigan, with the artist gaining mainstream attention. Something similar is happening in New York City and the Sexy Drill movement led by Bronx rapper/producer Cash Cobain. Cobain’s “Fisherrr” is already a song of the summer candidate, and he’s made music with Drake and received a co-sign from Travis Scott, while maintaining his unique sound. These are the intangible stats that can only be determined by being outside.

The year is still young, though, and some of the biggest acts in the game have yet to really make their move in 2024.

The industry should try to lead the genre into a healthy future by putting more stock into these smaller scenes rather than predicating hip-hop’s success on the major player's success. This would require both listeners and executives to expand their horizons beyond what they're accustomed to hearing and be open to whatever hip-hop chooses to evolve into. The next generation of underground rappers, like YhapoJJ, Wolfacejoeyy, and Bktherula, don’t sound much like the traditional rap that came before them, but they will be the young guard leading rap into unexplored territory, and they’ll need support and encouragement—not judgment, disdain, or industry plant accusations—in order for the genre to keep growing.

Hip-hop has rebounded both commercially and culturally this year, but it still hasn’t returned to its peak, however. The only rap album in the last decade to maintain a No. 1 spot for nine weeks straight is Drake’s Views in 2016 (which was No. 1 for 13 weeks total), and the genre has slowly been dropping in market share since the turn of the decade. According to Luminate, hip-hop has remained the leading genre in terms of market share and controlled 28.2% of US consumption of music in 2020, but it declined to 27.7% in 2021, 26.8% in 2022, and now 25.8% in 2023.

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The year is still young, though, and some of the biggest acts in the game have yet to really make their move in 2024. On Complex’s 360 with Speedy, Cardi B confirmed that she would be dropping her anticipated sophomore album this year. Elsewhere in the Bronx, the young phenom Ice Spice is preparing to release her debut album, Y2K, a chance to prove she’s a superstar with staying power. Playboi Carti is in the midst of his rollout for MUSIC. Despite the fact there’s a war going on outside no rapper is safe from, J. Cole is still teasing the release of his next album, The Fall Off. Baby Keem might be tapping Kendrick Lamar again to assist him on his upcoming project that he teased in January. Gunna recently announced that his next album, One of Wun, will be arriving this summer alongside his tour.  

Hip-hop is in a good place when the biggest acts are dropping music that moves the streets, the smallest scenes are making inspired sounds that's branching out across the country, and fans are willing to hear and experience new shit. When those three things are happening, everything else tends to fall into place. Hip-hop is still a billion dollar industry, and it can withstand temporary dips. So far, it looks like we’re heading in the right direction in 2024.

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